Monday, November 11, 2013

Impromptu Stay-cation

So, this weekend is Veteran's Day.

Side note: Happy Veteran's Day to all our vets, with a special shout out to veterans PapaTK and Papa-in-lawTK!

Anyways, to celebrate Veteran's Day, the TKs and The Last House Guest had planned to visit Jaisalmer in western Rajasthan, a place that is highly recommend in many guide books, but also very remote. It requires a flight to Jodhpur and then a five hour taxi ride, or a 17 hour train ride (whichever you prefer.) Well, our flight was cancelled. Of course, they couldn't cancel the flight in advance. No, we were sitting in the airport for a couple hours before they finally canceled the flight. It was weird because it was canceled for weather reasons, but besides the typical pollution haze there was no inclement weather that would typically cause flight cancellations.

This development was pretty disappointing for several reasons.
  1. Like I said in my last blog post, we only had two vacations left before we leave and this was one of them. Now we only have one vacation left. Boo!
  2.  I took a day off of work only to spend it sitting in the airport. I have very limited vacation time left and I basically just wasted it.
  3. This was the only trip outside of Delhi we were going to go on with The Last House Guest. Now he will head off to Jodhpur without us.
  4. I really wanted to see Jaisalmer.
Why did I really want to see Jaisalmer, you ask? Because I wanted to see this:

Jaisalmer Fort. Courtesy of Google Images.

 And I really wanted to do this:

Camel Safari in the desert around Jaisalmer. Also courtesy of Google Images.

But, alas, I get to do neither.

Still, life goes on and so with a few extra days left in Delhi, we decided to wander on down to Old Delhi to see the Red Fort and the absolute insanity of it all.  Normally, I prefer to go with Viki who drives us down to the area where we pick up a bicycle rickshaw who drives us around.  But since Viki is still under the weather, we sucked it up and took the metro. At 8:00 am on a Saturday, the metro is pretty awesome. However when we were trying to return at about 4:30 pm... well that was another story entirely. They only had one ticket vending machine that only took exact change, but didn't accept coins. So... yeah. I wish I had taken a picture of the station to show you the crowd.  We ended up leaving and taking an autorickshaw back home. Mr. ATK says we would still be waiting in that train station if we hadn't left. The Last House Guest, who has quickly become surprisingly attached to the Delhi metro, disagrees. I guess we'll never know who was right.

But I digress... 

The first stop on our rickshaw tour was the Red Fort. This was my third trip to the fort and Mr. ATK's first. The pollution haze created some interesting pictures. See below. The top one was taken at the Chhata Bazaar by The Last House Guest. I fully acknowledge that I stole it from him. The second picture is a bunch of birds descending on the Diwan-i-khas in the Red Fort. The birds in this town are nuts. They aren't just pigeons either. There seem to be an abundance of birds of prey like hawks and falcons. Is it because of the garbage? Because of all the animals? I suppose there must be lots of carrion due to all the animals in town. Another thing to ponder, I guess.

I think the haze gives this picture a very "head toward the light" vibe

One amusing moment, apart from the constant paparazzi buzzing around us, was when Mr. ATK, The Last House Guest, and I were wandering around a rather secluded area of the Red Fort, when a large group of Indians came around the corner. Upon seeing us, they pointed at us and shouted, "Hey! Gori!" Which means, "Hey, white people!" To be fair, it could also mean, "Hey, horse!" as my Hindi is not particularly strong. However, context clues, such as the lack of horses in the area, lead me to believe they were talking about us. Not much else to that anecdote. It was just funny. Not terribly subtle.  I'm pretty sure they took our pictures. With all this picture taking, I joke that I need to constantly be sucking in my gut, standing up straight and remembering to smile at all times. Of course, I don't. I am positive there are countless pictures of me on strangers cameras slouching and making some sort of slack jawed yokel face.

Like this, for example:

That is me in Ecuador with PapaTK circa 2008. I look like this in all the pictures of me that I didn't realize were being taken. I guess slouching with a mouth-breathing grimace on my face is my default look.

But anyways, I digress again. Where was I? Oh, yes. The Red Fort and pictures. See below.

Mr. ATK takes pictures with "his public".

After the Red Fort, we headed over to the largest mosque in Delhi, the Jama Masjid. Now I've tried to go a couple times before, but always arrived right when the call to prayer started so I couldn't go in. This time we got there in plenty of time, though I did have to pay to take a camera in and also I had to rent a smock of some sort. I guess pants on women are frowned upon? I brought a scarf to cover my head, but turns out that wasn't required.

Me rockin' my rent-a-smock at the mosque

The rest of the day, we were touring around Chandni Chowk--the crazy marketplace in Old Delhi--on our bicycle rickshaws. We saw things I had already seen during previous trips to the market, the Spice Market for example, but also a few new areas. Our rickshaw drivers were very good; they know what the tourists want. What gets annoying is that they always want to take you to places where they get commission. If you are pretty firm about where you want to go and where you don't, they generally won't force the issue. Unfortunately, this time, when the driver asked if we wanted to go to an "underground market" to see "beautiful silks and saris and very nice fabrics," I was intrigued. "Underground market," that sounds pretty interesting, right? Well, it's not. Instead of a market, which, to my mind, conjures up images of many shops selling similar products in a central location, it was a single store of "silks" and random nick-knacks and tchotchkes located in a basement.

So this store, this "underground market," if you will, was the worst store ever. The products were okay. Nothing spectacular and nothing you can't find in hundreds of other stores in Delhi. What made it the worst store ever was their "customer service" (and, yes, those are sarcastic quotes).  They did the standard hard sale where they start pulling out all the scarves or saris or whatever and shoving them in your hands, which is all well and good. But then the sales ladies would get all exasperated if you didn't want to buy anything. They literally said, both to us and other customers in the store, "Well, why did you make me get all this stuff out then?!"

I wasn't really interested in buying, and Mr. ATK was pissed that we went out of our way through horrific traffic to come to this specific store so the drivers could get a commission. Still, The Last House Guest is, you know, a guest and is looking to buy souvenirs and gifts for friends and family, so he was actually looking at the products. He is a bit fastidious, checking for defects and all. You know, he takes the whole caveat emptor thing very seriously. And that is totally fine. It's his money; he has every right to spend it as he wishes. But as he was looking through the scarves, the sales lady was all eye roll-y and goes, "He's so choosy." [Insert exasperated sigh here]. I couldn't believe it. I was like, "You know, he's right there, right? He can hear you." Then, when one I noticed one of the scarves The Last House Guest really liked had a snag in it, I pointed it out and the lady kept yelling about how it was a handwoven scarf and it wouldn't break or come undone. Like that was the point. I was like, "No. Because these threads are pulled, the design doesn't look nice right here." And she was all, "You must have ruined it with your nails." The Last House Guest was like, "I just clipped my nails today." Then the lady made an exasperated comment in Hindi to one of the other sales people.

But the thing is, like I said, it wasn't just our sales lady. This was the store's modus operandi. All the sales people were acting this way.  One lady yelled at a group of Middle Eastern guys about how they made her get out all these kurtas so they, like, had to buy one. She was like, "What's your size?" very belligerently and would bring them shirts and basically tell them they owed it to her to buy it. I guess this bullying must work, or they wouldn't do it.  Even after this total rudeness, The Last House Guest was still contemplating buying something. Finally, I was like, "You know what? These people suck and you can find this stuff anywhere." So we left, with they lady shouting at us as we walked up the steps, "You're not going to buy anything! You made me take all this out! Why did you waste my time?!"

The moral of this story is, if you go to Old Delhi, avoid the Silk Palace (that's the name of the store.) If anyone offers to take you there, or to an underground market or to a place with "many beautiful silks and saris and whatevers." Do yourselves a favor and decline. Go to Dilli Haat if you want to buy crafts and scarves and whatnot. They aren't assholes over there.

On a cheerier note, here are some pictures of our adventures in Old Delhi.

I took a ton of pictures, so I guess I'll just share some of the interesting occupations I saw. 

Roti maker

Popcorn and peanut seller

Used clothing salesman

Road side Barbershop

Can't forget rickshaw driver (who is pulling The Last House Guest)

This guy is the Fan Wallah. He fixes fans.

Oh, and I have to share one last one of the electrical wiring.
Safety first!
Finally, if I may, Dear Reader, I'd like to finish this post up with a moment of introspection.  This was likely my last trip to Old Delhi before I leave India and I have to marvel at how much more comfortable I was.  I cannot adequately describe how much I hated Old Delhi the first time we went. I remember it so clearly. It was May and we were meeting friends for dinner at Karim's, which is an institution in Delhi. (Seriously, Time Magazine called it one of the best restaurants in Asia.) It was so hot and so crowded. I felt so claustrophobic as we wandered down narrow streets which seemed to randomly alternate between market/commercial areas and residential areas. The streets would become so narrow we would have to squeeze into doorways whenever a motorcycle or scooter came zooming by (generally laying on the horn while doing so) because there wasn't enough room on the street for vehicles and us. They seemed to wind about without any rhyme or reason, which disoriented me and made me very anxious. I felt like I was in the movie Labyrinth but without David Bowie or muppets.  The acrid smell of urine and incense and frying food was overwhelming. Oppressively overwhelming. The crowds, the pushing, the honking, the absurd amount of vehicles of all shapes and sizes trying to fight to move inches on roads that clearly were not big enough to handle all, if any, of them. ...I just hated it so much.  And I think, because I was so focused on my own discomfort, I couldn't fully appreciate everything that was going on around me. 

But on this last trip, I darted through traffic and elbowed my way to the front of the line to buy a fresh jalebi like a pro. I really enjoyed the Old Delhi experience--well, my touristy version of the Old Delhi experience, which is most definitely not to be confused with the experiences of the people that actually live and work in Old Delhi.  I enjoyed something that I would have hated--that I did hate--just two years ago. And even the parts of our little day trip that weren't very enjoyable, didn't upset me they way they would have in the past.  I can't help but wonder, When did that switch click? When did it change from something I hated to something I didn't?

I don't know... It's all very "Sunrise, Sunset."


  1. looks like you guys still had fun despite missing the trip.

  2. a couple comments:
    1. i think matt and i went to that silk palace place. the ladies were not nice and were really patronizing when they'd say, "well, it is HAND-MADE." no shit, lady. i can tell. old, and hand-made. obvio. matt bought over priced incense.
    2. butcher shop next to a fabric shop. one stop shopping.
    3. what is the used ropa dude taking a picture of?
    4. i can't believe you would ever have the need for socks in that country. have you taken to carrying an extra pair for temple and mosque purposes?